Walking across Jemma el-Fna for the first time I could have sworn I’d been magically transferred to the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Snake charmers with cobras looking on lazily, monkeys wearing little vests sitting on the shoulders of their handlers, stalls filled with fresh dates (omg fresh dates! So much more delicious than the dried dates we get at home) and freshly squeezed orange juice. The only thing missing was Indiana Jones.
Marrakech is an exotic feast for the senses. The bright colours, the spicy aromas, the noise of the medina (hello miss, bonjour miss, hola miss), the tasty tagines. Marrakesh was everything I’d imagined and so much more. Days can be spent getting lost in the souks, discovering hidden treasures and feasting. New suitcases are required to fill after shopping in the medina. Oh how I would love to decorate at home with everything I saw in Marrakech.
So here is a list of my favourite things to do:
Ali ben Youssef Medersa
Once the largest school for learning the Quran in north Africa, this theological college was founded in the 14th century and remains one of the most beautiful buildings in Marrakech. With ornate mosaic tiled walls, cedar windows and large archways, it is such a pleasure to wander around the halls of this once prominent school.
Maison de la Photographie
A wonderful photography museum showcasing vintage photos of Morocco from 1870 to 1950. The photos fill three floors and show scenes depicting all walks of life in Morocco during these years. The rooftop terrace café is also a lovely place to relax out of the heat and admire the views of Marrakech from above.
Learn to cook Moroccan Food
One of the many wonderful things about Morocco is the food. Full of spices and flavours, it is one thing to enjoy eating it (and plenty of places to do that!) It’s quite another to learn how to cook it yourself. I booked myself in with Souk Cuisine, who after an hilarious morning in the markets where we had to buy the ingredients ourselves, we then had a further hilarious afternoon making a plethora of dishes and then getting to enjoy eating them.
My favourite part was baking the cookies for dessert. Most Moroccan dishes are cooked on the stovetop so people will rarely own an oven. That’s where communal ovens come in. We took our prepared cookies on trays through the streets of the medina until we reached a baker. We left the trays with him for an hour or so and went back later to pick up our now freshly baked cookies! The hardest part was keeping the local kids hands off them as we carried the deliciously scented cookies back to Souk Cuisine for eating.
Get lost in the souks of the medina
It’s pretty easy. Take a few turns right, left, right, and suddenly you won’t be able to find your way back out. Don’t worry though, there is always someone who wants to help, for a fee. It’s the best way to discover the medina though, and to meet fascinating locals. Like Ayoub. He works at one of the many herb and spices stores. What made him stand out though and prompt me to visit his store? He claimed to have a photo with Jamie Oliver! It was an interesting angle, one I hadn’t heard before, so I decided to take a gamble. I’m usually pretty wary of being scammed, but I’m glad I followed my intuition on this one. The store inside was lovely, the walls lined with different herbs and spices.
Ayoub showed me his photo, of Jamie Oliver, apparently standing in this very store. Unsure of the truth of that, but it led to a lovely encounter. I was shown some of the more traditional spices, what they were used for. The most common purchase in these stores though is the Argan Oil. Native to Morocco, it is produced from the nut of the Argan tree after the nut has been eaten by tree climbing goats and pooped back out. Fascinating. I bought a bottle, which is supposed to be great for skin and hair.
After my purchase Ayoub recommended a local restaurant nearby in the medina, for lunch. After showing me the way he then joined me and we had a wonderful, super cheap meal and great conversation. Sometimes it pays to be open to experiences and not assume everyone is trying to scam you.
Till you drop. If I was only visiting Morocco on this trip then I would certainly have taken an empty suitcase and filled it up! Unable to carry much more in my rather small backpack however I was limited in choice. I could squeeze in a few things though. For those with room to spare there are Moroccan carpets, leather shoes, handbags and jackets, lamps, tea sets, paintings, mirrors, rugs, tagine cooking sets, herbs and spices and so much more. It is a market shoppers paradise. Be prepared to haggle……hard.
Jemaa el-Fna comes alive at night with street food stalls. Half the fun is choosing in which one to eat, as the food is very similar in each. The stalls are numbered and touts will try to convince you that there one is the best (number 34, it is me you’re looking for). I always go for the most crowded with locals.
How to get there
The taxi’s from the airport are the biggest scam of all in Marrakech. They try to charge up to 300 Dirham when the cost should be about 60. I caught the airport bus (number 19) which stops right next to the taxi stand and drops you off just across from Jemaa el-Fna. The cost is 20-30 Dirham.